“Voter is more important than representative”
Trans World Features (TWF) | 20 Apr 2014
“Voter is more important than representative”
At 90, eminent Gandhian scholar Narayan Desai sees ‘hope’ in the Aam Admi Party. He is the son of Mahatma Gandhi’s personal assistant Mahadev Desai and the chancellor of Gujarat Vidyapeet— founded by Mahatma Gandhi. Yet, unlike Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson Rajmohan Gandhi, who has formally joined AAP, Desai, instead, prefers mobilising Gandhians’ support for AAP. In an exclusive interview to journalist and filmmaker Deepak Parvatiyar, Desai talks about AAP, Narendra Modi, the Congress, and the issues concerning him and other Gandhians. Excerpts:

How do you look at your rare involvement in the deliberations on 2014 elections in New Delhi recently? As a Gandhian thinker, what makes you support the Aam Admi Party?


The breakthrough that it (the Aam Admi Party) seems to have created in the present conditions of India  is what has made us support this… The breakthrough which has given us some hope that the people of India can and may support issues which are not communal; issues which do not come out of just a clichéd belief; issues which do not rise because of regional problems; and issues which really matter from day to day as they support and they may be able to support some parties or some people who can rise above all these petty issues.

How do you look at  your two day meeting in Delhi in February?


I thought there was some kind of consensus in the people that it’s the people or the voter who is more important than the representative and if that kind of feeling is created I would feel that to be very positive.


How will you pursue it further?


Difficult to say because we came from different areas, represented different organisations and many of them will still wait and see how things (work out) and myself I would perhaps just wait and see what happens out of it. But I would say whenever I get a chance I would say that I think the voter is more important than their representative.


What impression have you formed on one month of governance of AAP in Delhi?


Luckily I am coming to Delhi for the first time (after AAP government was formed) and in Vedchhi (the village in Surat where he lives) government doesn’t matter. We don’t know what government is working in Delhi, we don’t even know. It’s remote.  And so I have not even considered that problem.


But there has been criticism in the media on the way of functioning of Arvind Kejriwal…


You must ask the media who made the statement and who provoked them and who might even have inspired them…I don’t judge person by just one month rule but I will give him some time.


How will you explain Kejriwal quitting as Delhi chief minister?


I feel AAP stands for radical change in the politics of the country and not for power. It has challenged the paradigm of politics.


Do you think the people’s expectations have grown because of the AAP phenomenon and that’s why you are supporting them?


Well some things of the government that we heard were good, some things will be bad, but I am not sure whether all things reported by the media were exactly truthful and whether they were not exaggerated or created. We don’t know so you as a representative of the media will be able to judge it much better than I can.


Isn’t it a great success of Aam Admi Party that Gandhian thinkers like you now feel excited over the new political development? What are your expectations from AAP?


Basically to me it depends upon the definition of development and generally the definition of development is very similar to the definitions of development in the United States, Western Europe and something like that and with which I disagree totally. Even if you don’t consider spiritual problems or cultural problems, then only be concerned (with) economic problem, to me the criteria for development is that wherever there is more of equality in the society… at any level, … the society which has equality even at a lower level is happier than society at a much higher level of economics but with much deeper disparity.


Traditionally your family was close to the Congress.


My father was the member of the Congress in the early 1930s…. And nobody else in the family has ever been with the Congress. We have never been with any political party. But in 1932 he was the secretary of the Gujarat Congress Committee…


You are from Gujarat. You have seen Narendra Modi’s rise from a state BJP functionary to the state’s chief minister. Now he is a prime ministerial candidate of the BJP. Being a Gujarati isn’t this a matter of pride for you?


 I love Gujarat but I am not proud of Gujarat. To love somebody or some state is one thing and to be proud of somebody or some state is a different thing. I love Gujarat because of its culture. I love Gujarat …. First, because from Narsinh Mehta the first poet of Gujarati to Gandhi, it has produced so many illustrious people and that’s why I love.  But one person who’s  risen from one position to other in politics is not enough to make me proud of that condition.


 What is the reason for that?


That’s not pleasant thing.


But why not Narendra Modi?  He is also a Gujarati, he has risen from ranks, he is a backward and he is selling dreams to the people…


Yes I think he (pause)… every morning he also exercises Yoga and I can give you some more points in support of him. But still, well, personally I don’t know him. I met some times but I can’t say I know him as much I knew Babubhai Jasubhai Patel for example or Chiman Bhai Patel  or so many chief ministers before him. Of all these Chief Ministers, I think knew Jeevraj Mehta the most, the first chief minister of Gujarat.  And next to him I think Babubhai Jasubhai Patel.  But I don’t want to mention this because they all belonged to one party and this man belongs to another party and I don’t want to make that distinction just because of his party. But I would not support him because he has not shown any regret for the violence in 2002 in Ahmedabad. Not only that, he conducted a tour in which he addressed about 164 meetings and called it aGaurav Yatra -- A pilgrimage of pride. Pride of what? Killing of one’s own people (in) his own state? And that is what I can’t support indeed.


But there is nothing in the courts against him…


Yes. That is true. But that does not convince me enough to justify. He was the chief minister. He was the chief minister of the state when that phenomenon occurred. And he still continues to be the chief minister. And the court doesn’t reject that. The court only frees him saying he was not involved in that.  


His supporters say that at that time when the riots broke out, he was very new to the position. He had never held such a position before in his life. So should he get the benefit of doubt for that?


I would not try to create the riot again to try him again for that.


Gandhi’s suggestion of disbanding the Congress after Independence has become a campaign issue this elections. How relevant is this suggestion of the Mahatma after over six and half decades of Independence?


That is only a negative part of the solution. The positive part was he was completely in support of disbanding the Congress as he wanted to change it into a Lok Sevak Sangh which was the positive part of it and that was never even considered in the Congress Working Committee. And that was something which I conceded to be a tragedy.


So how relevant is it now after 65 years of Independence?


It has become more relevant. More relevant even than at that time! Because(of)  the people. During these six-seven decades of independence, the people have become more and more dependent on the government. And what(Mahatma) Gandhi wanted was the people to be dependent on themselves rather than the government and that’s why it has become relevant.